I often hear people say they don’t like to cook at home because shopping for one meal requires too.many.ingredients. And when they do buy all the ingredients and actually make a home cooked meal, they’re left with a ton of unused items that they don’t know what to do with.

I totally understand that frustration- I hate spending money on ingredients I can’t easily use again.  I find, though, when I keep the following staples on hand, it not only means that cooking a new recipe doesn’t require a huge grocery trip, but it makes it much easier to use all up those leftovers and pull together new creations any night of the week.

1. Good Olive Oil Pretty much goes in any entree you’re making, and often works as a healthier substitute for butter.  You don’t need to spend a ton to get good quality- Trader Joe’s sells a several good bottles for under $10.

2. Fresh Garlic First and foremost, that pre-chopped stuff you see in those little jars in the grocery store is not a substitute for fresh garlic.  Buy the real stuff.  It’s inexpensive, lasts for a few weeks (store the heads in the fridge), and literally can be added to almost any entree.

3. Vinegar You can make salad dressing in seconds with just olive oil, salt, pepper, and vinegar.  Red wine, white wine, balsamic- doesn’t matter. Buy whatever suits your fancy.

4. Chicken or Vegetable Stock I can’t begin to explain how convenient it is to have a couple quarts of stock on hand. They making throwing together soups and sauces, or upping the flavor on risotto or rice a cinch.

5. Lemons Fresh lemon juice is such a common ingredient when I’m cooking meat, vegetable, or pasta dishes, that I always like to have one in the fridge.  Not to mention, they’re great for impromptu cocktails!

6. Diced Tomatoes You’d be surprised what you can create with diced tomatoes.  Though I prefer fresh over canned vegetables, having diced tomatoes on hand make week night cooking (think 10 minute pasta sauce) a breeze.   You can get very reasonable organic cans at most grocery stores.

7.Wine In short, you should be cooking with it.  Wine can be used as a marinade for any meat, for the base of a pasta dish, and for an innumerable number of sauces.  The great thing? Most often you don’t need a specific type, just a red or white you like to drink.

8. French Mustard Another quick source of flavor- put it in salad dressing, roast potatoes in it, or use it as a glaze for salmon.  Think outside the box, this ingredient goes well beyond a topping for hot dogs!

9. Eggs They’re required in any baking good and provide an easy (and filling) weeknight meal when you only have energy to make an omelette (or let’s face it, scrambled eggs).

10. Dried Herbs I’ll go into the specifics on which ones I buy and why in a dedicated post, but for now, I always like to keep curry, cinnamon, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano on hand.

I’m so curious, what do you guys keep in your pantry? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Ps:  It goes without saying, you should also always have salt and pepper on hand- but I thought that was a bit of a no brainer!

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  1. Those are all good ones. I definitely keep diced tomatos and olive oil in the kitchen at all times. I also always have a block of parmesan cheese (I love the way the fresh grated looks and tastes as opposed to the pre-grated stuff), jarred pickled jalapenos, and a variety of dried pastas on hand to name a few. I find pasta to be my go-to meal a lot of the times when I don’t know what else to make.

    • Oh parmesan! I totally should have included that one, I always like to have it on hand. And couldn’t agree with you more- it definitely doesn’t replace the pre-grated stuff.

  2. I like to keep sour orange, salt, ground garlic, eggs, bagged salads and canned and frozen vegetables. Bagged salads because they’re easier to grab and go and most come varied so you don’t have to worry about chopping down carrots and shredding 2 types of lettuces. And you can have them as a side or combine them with beef or chicken. Canned and frozen vegetables because once again you can have them as a side or combine them with your entree. Eggs are an essential part of breakfast at my house and I might even need to say that bacon has to be present at all times for my dads sanity.

    • Ha, I’ve got bacon in my freezer right now! I’m so curious, what is sour orange??

  3. I’ve got it all in my kitchen and I’m not what I call a good cook/chef/ or anything close. I hope your series helps me out.

    • I hope I can help too! Maybe it’s worth doing a post on what to do with those ingredients in a pinch… I’ll work on it :)

  4. Beautiful images and I agree with all of the above must have items!!

  5. This is so true! There are so many times I look at a recipe and say, yep, yep, got that! Great tips!

    • I’m so glad you agree! For years I felt like every recipe required so many things I didn’t have, but with these, it makes everything seems much more approachable.

  6. Is that seriously your kitchen?? If my kitchen was that darling, I’d be in it ALL the time. Good gravy, that’s cute!
    As far as staples, since I have two very little kiddos at home it seems my staples these days are, rolled oats, bananas, eggs, and milk. Heaven forbid I run out of any of those!

    • Ha, I wish it was my kitchen! Sadly, I just snagged the photo from Pinterest. Those are all staples in my kitchen too, especially the rolled oats. I make granola all the time, so I always keep a few bags of oats around.

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  11. KansasKate

    * Bags of Al Dente pasta (fettuccine, linguine) in the pantry. It’s dry but it cooks in only 3 minutes!

    * Cans and/or bags of white chicken meat and of tuna, ready to eat. Either one can be used in salads or sandwiches, and the chicken can be added to pasta, nachos, etc.

    * Ready-made mini pastry cups. They can be turned into sweet or savory hors d’oeuvres in a flash.

  12. i’m new to the site, but i am a kitchen pantry/gadget junky, as i recently remodeled my kitchen, it makes me want to cook more! my must have items are: garlic, curry, paprika, red pepper flakes, lemon pepper, chicken stock/bouillons, olive oil, cajun seasoning oh and my fav basil! i love to experiment with different marinades as well..and i’m thinking of purchasing a pasta maker, as i recently started buying fresh pasta which i notice a differ from box pasta

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  14. I keep most of these on hand too! Good list!

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